Ottawa’s health system is in ‘crisis,’ Dr. Etches says amid 142 new coronavirus cases

“I have something really important that I need you to hear. Our health system is in crisis.”

That was the message from Ottawa’s medical officer of health on Friday as the city reported 142 new cases of the novel coronavirus, shattering the previous record of 105 new infections set just a few days prior.

The rate at which Ottawa residents are testing positive for the virus is unsustainable, Dr. Vera Etches said in a rare morning press conference to address the COVID-19 situation in Ottawa.

She did not announce any new restrictions on residents’ behaviour aimed at stemming the spread of the virus.

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Instead, she urged everyone in the city to limit their close contacts to their household and one or two essential supports, lest the city’s health-care infrastructure collapse.

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“I am sounding the alarm. This is our warning bell. With this spike, we have entered crisis territory,” she said.

Her remarks come as Ontario also set a new daily record with 732 new coronavirus cases.

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Etches said the backlog of tests, which has surpassed 90,000 across the province, has left some people waiting more than a week to receive their results.

That’s delaying Ottawa Public Health’s contact tracing efforts, as staff are reaching out to contacts who might have been going about their lives for days with no knowledge they might have been exposed to the virus.

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Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 have also doubled in the past 10 days, she said, a dangerous trend that could see hospitals soon overwhelmed.

If Ottawa continues in this direction, the city will see daily increases of 200 new coronavirus cases well before mid-October, Etches said.

She added that before long, businesses and schools could be forced to close again to stem the spread of the virus.

While Etches said she is against Ottawa moving back to Stage 2, as such a shift could imperil businesses and the life savings of some residents, she said she has been in discussion with provincial officials about targeted restrictions that could help send the message about reducing close contacts.

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“Ottawa as a collective is not doing enough in the area of prevention,” Etches said.

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Lineups for testing at Ottawa’s assessment centres appear to be improving following weeks of sites regularly hitting capacity as soon as doors opened.

Etches said she has heard from testing partners in the city that lineups have decreased following the changes to provincial guidance discouraging asymptomatic residents from getting tested.

In an effort to reduce the overwhelming demand for coronavirus testing locally, Ottawa’s top doctor had been asking asymptomatic residents to avoid getting tested well ahead of the province’s shift in guidance.

Etches said OPH attempts to align its messaging with the province as much as possible, but that residents should follow the local public health unit for the most direct advice, as provincial officials must address all of Ontario with more general advice than is warranted in hot spots such as Ottawa.

“Our provincial leaders have the challenge that what needs to be done in Ottawa is different from what needs to be done in Thunder Bay,” she said.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford will provide an update on the province’s response to COVID-19 at 1 p.m. on Thursday.

OPH will release its more fulsome daily report on the novel coronavirus, which includes details on outbreaks and active cases of the virus in Ottawa, around 12:30 p.m.

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